EOC Business Survey Affirms Benefits of Equal Opportunity Practices
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (17 June 2002) announced its findings of a major survey on employers and employees in the business sector, the first of its kind in Hong Kong which studied the current level of knowledge of anti-discrimination legislation and the level of adherence to good management practices under the equal opportunity legislation. More than three thousand employers and employees in medium to large enterprises (MLEs) , as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) participated in the "Equal Opportunity in the Business Community" survey, which included telephone interviews and focus group discussions conducted during May to November, 2001.
Chairperson of the EOC, Ms. Anna WU said, "Close to sixty percent of our complaints received regarding gender, disability and family status discrimination are employment related. This survey has identified the needs and concerns of the business sector, and will assist us in encouraging the adoption of equal opportunity policies and practices in the work environment. Both employers and employees will stand to benefit."
Key findings in the survey revealed that MLE and SME employers and employees had a high awareness of the EOC. The majority of respondents highly valued the EOC as an important mechanism in receiving and resolving complaints, changing people’s attitude, encouraging good workplace practices, taking legal actions, setting up guidelines, and promoting and educating people about equal opportunities. Most respondents believed the EOC to be impartial in handling complaints.
Compared with the SME sector, MLE employers had a better knowledge of existing legislation, while employees in both sectors showed a similar level of knowledge. The respondents also believed that compliance with equal opportunity principles would result in a better working relationship, higher efficiency, employee stability and confidence in the company. They shared views on the negative impact of non-compliance, the most common being low employee morale, tense relationship among colleagues and ruining the company reputation.
Interestingly, a majority of employers and employees in both sectors believed that discrimination on the grounds of race, age and sexual orientation were illegal, even though these were not covered by existing anti-discrimination laws in Hong Kong.
The survey found that employers and employees had a good understanding of the liability under the equal opportunity law, but employers had seriously underestimated their vicarious liabilities for acts of their employees. Employers are liable for unlawful acts committed by their employees in the course of employment, with or without their knowledge. Only 30% of SME employers and 34% of MLE employers were aware that they were vicariously liable for discrimination or sexual harassment that had taken place in their workplace. Comparatively, more SME and MLE employees were aware of this, amounting to 52% and 45 % respectively. After being informed of their liabilities, the majority of SME (93%) and MLE (99%) expressed concern.
A list of reasonable and practical measures had been identified as basic requirements to minimize employers' liability under existing legislation. These measures were good management practices, which included the introduction of an equal opportunity policy and an identified process for handling complaints, designation of a person for equal opportunity matters and provision of training and information about equal opportunity to employees. Most sampled SMEs (91%) had taken none of these measures to prevent discrimination or sexual harassment, while most sampled MLEs had taken some preventive measures against such acts. The main reasons given were there was no need for measures, and discrimination or harassment had not happened. It was shown that the bigger the company, the more likely it was to carry out preventive measures.
About 5% of SME and MLE employees claimed they had personally experienced discrimination or sexual harassment. When talking about other people's experiences, 9% of SME employees and 15% of MLE employees reported having observed discrimination or sexual harassment cases involving co-workers.
In both sectors, only about 10% of the employees who had personal experience of discrimination or sexual harassment reported their cases to employers and those with relevant authority. The respondents quoted lack of confidence about the outcome of lodging a complaint, and fear of losing their jobs as the main reasons for not complaining.
Ms. WU emphasized, "It is important that people's right to raise a concern about discrimination and harassment is respected. The EOC believes that complaints are better dealt with within the company. We encourage employers to take preventive action and follow the recommended good practices so as to eliminate discrimination and deal with unlawful acts in their organizations."
The companies surveyed expressed a willingness to receive training and information from the EOC, which could facilitate their compliance with existing legislation and minimize their liability. More than half of MLE employers chose to educate/train their staff in the legislation to resolve the matter within the company. They identified actions that they would take:
- To educate/train their employees
- To establish preventive measures
- To consult EOC/ formulate EO policies
Ms. WU continued, "Everyone has the right to work in an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment. Unfortunately, these incidents do happen, and companies should adopt proper procedures to handle such complaints. Failure to address complaints would not only create a hostile working environment, the real cost for the company could be far higher."
Following the findings of the EOC survey, the EOC will introduce a series of initiatives to support the business community in providing the information they need to promote good management practices. The series of projects will be launched in the following months :
- EO training workshops (September, 2002)
- SME Kit (October, 2002)
- E-Learning, web based training designed for the business sector (Early 2003)
In conclusion, Ms. WU said, " There is value in compliance. Statistics rating the performance of the Standard & Poor's 500 have shown, the annualized return for the 100 companies which rated lowest in equal opportunity practices averaged 7.9%, compared to 18.3% for the 100 companies that rated highest in equal opportunity practices. The figures are clear : a motivated work force pays."
Census & Statistics Department's Definitions :
- MLEs : Manufacturing enterprises with >100 employees; non-manufacturing enterprises with >50 employees
- SMEs : Manufacturing enterprises with <50 employees; non-manufacturing enterprises with <50 employees
Enquiry: EOC Hotline 25118211